How Sarah Andrews created Australia’s most famous AirBnB

If you find yourself planning a trip to Tasmania, chances are you would have come across Captain’s Rest on your research. And if not, you can check out our complete review here, after a whimsical few days on the West Coast of Tasmania. But it isn’t too often we get the chance to take a glimpse inside the success story behind something as magical as Captain’s Rest, so it is with great pleasure I had the opportunity to interview Captain’s Rest creator, Sarah Andrews.

Sarah has long been a leader in the Australian design space, hosting masterclasses around the country to thousands of students. Now, with the launch of her new book Principles of Style, I had the great pleasure to chat with Sarah about her new book, the creation of Captain’s Rest, and what lies in the future.


Describe to us how you stumbled upon Captain’s Rest?

I started dreaming of a shack in the wilds of Tasmania as a teenage geography student in a small town on the edge of the desert and the sea in Western Australia back in the 90’s. And during a particularly tough point in my later life, about 7 years ago now, I pushed the buy button on what would now be known as Captains Rest in another small dusty town in a desert, Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. This place was always supposed to just be a getaway for me, it had been on the market for years, and even at $88,000 most peoples feedback was you couldn’t pay them that to live there — so yes, it was sight unseen — and not considered an intelligent buy at the time! 

What was your process in turning what we would typically consider a Tasmanian shack into one of Australia’s most sought after AirBnB’s?

About 6 months of renovating, doing a nearly 9 hour round trip just to visit the “local” bunnings. And, then – about 6 months of building my business once I opened to the public before It became a destination that sold out every night of the year. I did all of this remotely from my parents house back in WA during a challenging health crisis — hence the need to Airbnb my little shack rather than use it as a getaway for myself, as intended.


What were the most challenging moments in the restoration?

Restoration or renovating anything isn’t for the faint of heart, and although almost everything was hard, the most challenging part of the journey was emotional. Juggling so much on my own during the daytime — and then working at my full-time job over my mobile hotspot at nights. My marriage back in Alice Springs was falling apart — It felt like I was building something new for myself while everything I had ever known up until that point that kept me safe was crumbling. I felt like I was almost pushed into starting life afresh, way out here at the edge of the world, in this tiny little shack no one wanted, or could understand why I worked so hard on it.

What were the surprisingly simple or enjoyable moments in the restoration?

Lettes Bay, back then, was a place no one ever lived or visited, it was a crumbling little shack ghost town I gloriously had to myself. I’d spend days off laying around in the long grass in the sun in my knickers slowly training the wild ducks to be my friends. Jumping of the old jetties into the icy water with a “whoop!” and rushing dripping into heat back up by the fire. These days the other shacks have been snapped up by ex guests who fell in love with Captains Rest during their stay. It’s a busy and friendly place, and the lawns get mowed these days — but I still always dream of the years I had it all to myself. It was a special time.

It is difficult to describe the magic of Captain’s Rest to anyone who hasn’t been – how would you describe it to a stranger?

If you’ve ever read The Chronicles of Narnia when you were smaller, it’s exactly like that, moving through the wardrobe into another world, where everything that surrounds you is a surprise, an adventure and a delight. I know most think that an experience like that isn’t possible on this earth, but even after so many years of visiting, it still does it for me.

Who else is involved in Captain’s Rest?

We have such a big team now, and I am so grateful for each and every one of them, they are all such special women. It was initially run by me, but the success of Captains Rest, and then the subsequent success of all the other Airbnb’s that came to study with me at very first Hosting Masterclass workshops exploded my life into becoming a teacher full time, with 1000’s of students in every corner of the globe. I literally cannot pick up a magazine, or see a top 10 list without seeing them littered through it. I am so proud and lucky to be able to pass my knowledge on with so much success for others, but Captains Rest and the Hosting Masterclass could not run the way it does without Jess & Faith on the ground in Strahan, and Lisa & Amanda who work with me online where ever I am in the world.

Congratulations on your new book, The Principles of Style! Did you ever think you would write a book?

Not by any plan of mine! Australian publishing goddess Julie Gibbs attended one of my very first Masterclass for her cottage in the Blue Mountains, The Gumnuts. She was so taken with the experience, and the principles that I was teaching, that were my own — and new to this space, she believed the world needed to also have the experience, in a small way too.

How long was your book process, from start to finish?

About 3 years. I am both a Spatial Scientist, and a designer — and my work comes from my ideas and concepts about both, a series of visual experiments I have been working on, and teaching so many and understanding the way they understand the aesthetic world around them. This book was so different from any others, I was turned down again and again. Simon and Shuster finally took the leap and believed in what I had to say, and that perhaps, the world was ready for something new, achievable and practical rather than a hardbound collection of inspiration we mostly see.

The book is incredibly insightful and instructive – do you think interior design can be a bit of a taboo topic that can feel inaccessible to newcomers? Does this book set out to make the principles of style more accessible?

Absolutely. My students mostly come to class terrified of the spaces they have, and what they have to say with them, which is incredibly sad — they are all so wonderful and talented. The world of design is so incredibly ellistist, and fleeting. This book and my classes give the gift of authenticity and beauty back into the hands of every reader and every student.

What was the most challenging part of writing the book?

Writing! I’m very easily distracted, it was torturous to slug through it, I’m far better at instagram captions or teaching in real life. I was also so nervous about its launch, it’s so different to any other book in every single way. A week in, it’s already smashed every bestseller list under the sun. Im glad I was brave enough to do it!

What was the most enjoyable part of the process?

Seeing so many people fall in love with my ideas, and seeing the on flow effect to their spaces around them — and their happiness as a result. What a beautiful thing. The movement has been so profound I think this teaching is long overdue. My new school, Principles of Styling and Storytelling launches in November so that anyone who would like to continue learning if they loved the book can come and study.

Buy the Principles of Style book now!

Brooke Saward
Brooke Saward

Brooke Saward founded World of Wanderlust as a place to share inspiration from her travels and to inspire others to see our world. She now divides her time between adventures abroad and adventures in the kitchen, with a particular weakness for French pastries.

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